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  • Writer's pictureMarion Burchell

3 different types of maturity

Like most people, I was brought up to respect my elders. I was brought up to accept what they said is true, and even if they were wrong and I was right, I had to apologise.

You can imagine the confusion I felt, especially on entering the workplace, when you are working with (and managing) people older than you.

I didn’t understand how sometimes my thoughts and emotional intelligence was different to others.

It has since become clear to me that just because you are older doesn’t mean you are wiser.

As I move across demographic bands I am conscious about continuing to grow and not being rigid in what I think to be true.

One epiphany was the decoupling of biological maturity and emotional maturity. That is, just because you become older it doesn’t mean you become wiser.

There are many young people I know that show a far greater emotional maturity than many older people I know. While this gives me confidence about our future leaders, it raised questions around why people stop growing or maturing.

Perhaps they became comfortable with where they are in life? Perhaps there is a view of accepting their lot in life? Perhaps they just don’t want to acknowledge they can grow more as it results in being uncomfortable with knowing you may have been wrong about something.

Whatever it is, this is holding people back from growing and being a better version of themselves. As we are all on a journey, we all have something to learn and something to work on.

While biological maturity and emotional maturity are described in modern leadership literature, there should be a third pillar - cognitive maturity.

At a young age, we are taught to listen to our parents and not question what they say. This is further reinforced at school, where generally, we learn from books and teachers what the “right answer” is so we can ace that exam and get a high score. This practice can extend into adulthood, where people automatically respond to what others say as true e.g. the media, parents, “experts” or in the workplace.

Every time I work in an organisation I hear “That’s just how we do things around here” or “This is how I was taught to do it”. The extension of childhood cognitive framing into adulthood is alive and well.

Cognitive maturity is about deep thinking. It’s about asking great questions and gathering data points that help to objectively determine what is true or thinking deeper about a specific topic, matter or issue.

We can see this when people are presented the same material, and yet they have different views or opinions. Someone who takes things at face value may have a very straightforward view, whereas a cognitive mature person will have considered things from different perspectives, and made a determination based on multiple data points including subtle and nuanced cues.

While biological ageing takes care of itself every 365 days, emotional and cognitive maturity requires us to actively focus to grow and improve.

How are you working on your emotional and cognitive maturity as you biologically age?

About Marion

Marion is a highly experienced and accomplished strategy, innovation and leadership professional with a focus on the enterprise and government sectors. She is a trusted advisor to CEOs and senior executives, providing practical and pragmatic solutions to the challenges they face. Marion is the Managing Director at Azolla Holdings Pty Ltd, a Board member, thought leader and member of an international entrepreneur association.


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